The Music Man

Neil Simon Theater - May 2001

Review by John Kenrick

Oh, what a rare and sweet joy it is to return to one of your favorite productions and find that, a full year into its run, it is better than ever! With Eric McCormack, The Music Man does not just have a popular TV star – they have one of the best Harold Hill's you're ever going to see. Thanks to Will and Grace, we already know McCormack is an accomplished comic actor, but it turns out this veteran of the Canadian stage has a first-rate singing voice and stellar stage presence. He takes on one of the most difficult roles in the musical theater canon with extraordinary assurance, giving us a Harold Hill that is entirely his own. (And if you like him on TV, you're gonna go wild over him in person.) Yes, I liked Craig Bierko in this role, but Eric McCormack is so darned great that he brings the entire production to a new level.

How else can one explain why the ensemble – most of whom are still the original cast – have now turned numbers like "Rock Island Line" and "Pick-a-Little" into showstoppers? Susan Stroman's brilliant direction seems to have been further polished and refined in ways that enrich every scene. What had seemed quite brilliant months ago now has an even brighter dazzle, leaving those in the audience with no other choice than to scream their fool heads off!

Some new faces in the supporting cast are adding to the nightly mirthquake at the Neil Simon. As the indomitable Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn, Ruth Gottschall performs with such inspired lunacy that she rates a special Tony for Best Replacement Performance of Any Recent Season! Kenneth Kimmins is a riot as her blustering husband, Mayor Shinn. Joel Blum is perfect as Hill's sidekick Marcellus, and understudy Martha Hawley was charming as Mrs. Paroo. Those squabbling school board members who find themselves reconciled by barbershop harmony are still stealing scenes right and left. Michael Duran and Bruce Dow joined original barbershop quartet members John Sloman and Michael Leon-Wooley, knocking out pitch-perfect notes and deft comic bits with ease.

And what words could ever express the glory of seeing the divine Rebecca Luker thrilling audiences in a role she was born to play? She is the perfect Marion, embodying the yearning and passion of this underestimated role as no one else in the business today could hope to. And my oh my, when the lady sings! I am not ashamed to tell you that the ravishing beauty of Ms. Luker's "My White Night" and "Till There Was You" left me swimming in tears of joy.

Aw heck, everything about this Music Man just blows me away. It shamelessly affirms everything I love about musical theater. The heart, brains, and courage are all there – I could sit through it a hundred more times and still beg for more. With Eric McCormack doing such a bang-up job in the lead, this production is still the best damn thing on Broadway today. What a pity ABC has hired Matthew Broderick for its upcoming TV version of Music Man – there's a far better star in the part right now.

Now if only someone would produce a new musical for McCormack to come back in next season!

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